Will this ad help the SDGs?

I’m still struggling to make my mind up about this commercial promoting the Sustainable Development Goals. It is being released everywhere: I saw it at the cinema on Monday while I was waiting to see Everest (a movie about mountain climbers dying; not a children’s flick, in other words). The ad has been produced by Project Everyone and appears to have the UN’s approval.

On one hand you could argue it will help the Goals move beyond the confines of the conversations we development types have. On the other hand, and this is where my inclinations lie for now, you could argue the ad cheapens the Goals—a cutesy comic about the problems of our planet. As a good utilitarian, this would be something I would have no problems with if I thought it would work—if it would really expand the reach of the Goals, and enhance the efforts expended in their name. But I’m not sure that this is likely.

Maybe I’m wrong though (my wife, who’s often a better judge of these things than I am, thought the ad was great). You be the judge.

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Terence Wood

Terence Wood is a Research Fellow at the Development Policy Centre. His research focuses on political governance in Western Melanesia, and Australian and New Zealand aid.


  • Animals and ads aside – there is no plan. I was in NY for the launch and it was quite a week, with the convergence of the Papal visit, the SDG launch and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign! The excitement was palpable on all counts. But speaking as someone who has been closely involved in the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, it was a bitter sweet moment as we launched the new Global Strategy, because we know that the SDGs will diffuse this agenda (and no doubt other agendas) and we will have to redouble our efforts to reach the most vulnerable and hardest to reach. But, at least, we are working on a plan!!!

    A footnote from Julie Bishop at the USAID signature event on Partnerships for Poverty – its all about the changing role of the state, leveraging the private sector, the transformative nature of the internet and innovative partnerships. Not just from Julie Bishop – that was the message coming out in all the events I attended.

    • Hi Alex,

      The llama came close to winning me over too. But I can’t help but feel that, unless something has happened with Michelle Bachelet and the UN that I am unaware of, the poor creature is a little out of context 🙂


  • “The UN has launched a plan to fight poverty, injustice and climate change.” What could be more direct? Succinctly captures the key messages, reinforces the logo and presents the iconic UN chamber as the world’s meeting place. Anthropomorphising animals and linking them to national archetypes is a trope familiar to all ages. I think its brilliant.

    • I agree the ad does a very good job of distilling the essence of the goals into a single sentence (or, at least, it does a great job of distilling a particular interpretation of the goals). But there’s at least one glaring inaccuracy. No one has a plan: the Goals are desired targets; but we don’t have a plan for meeting them (which is a good thing given we know comparatively little about the development process).

      • You can’t arrive unless you know where you are going. In my view, the collective agreement to pose targets and a deadline *IS* the plan. The plan is to mobilise action and resources around meeting the targets, action that will now be tracked and monitored and be advocated for. If by plan you mean process, ie. logframes, workplans, and “frameworks for action”, we all know there’ll more of those to come in spades.

        • Hi Michael,

          Good point, and sort of taken. But — if we’re being honest with ourselves amidst the complex world of development — we have to admit that for many of the goals, in many country contexts we don’t know what action, and while we know resources help, we don’t know how to target them.


          • Thanks Terence, we are likely in furious but general agreement! I don’t know enough in-depth about each goal to comment, but in the area which I’ve had some international experience, malnutrition and food insecurity, the research has been sustained in the MDG period, the evidence is in, the solutions are well known, and there are country experiences where we have seen incredible gains, from which the lessons learned need only mobilised resources and political will to see them replicated. I say “only”, and herein is the challenge. (see here)

  • Thanks Terence. Watching it again, my impression is the same: I like it. The ad highlights the fact that every state agreed, and every state is expected to work towards the goals in some shape or form, not just developing countries: everyone, together. It is also great to see the effort kicked-off so quickly, unlike the MDGs where it took about five years before the promotional programme really got going. The aim was to promote the SDGs to as many people as possible within seven days (7 billion people, even) – a good idea, and one that indicates the UN is going to work hard to ‘sell’ these goals.

    For sure, there are major issues, as Philippe Krause from Team Chimera pointed out. But the realities on the ground should not prevent aspiration, and that’s what the SDGs are more than anything. I think the ad captures this well.

    Besides, who can resist Liam Neeson?

  • From a comms point of view, I just wonder who they are actually trying to communicate to with this ad. It doesn’t do anything to explain what the goals are or their ‘plan’ is (I think it’s pretty misleading to call the SDGs a plan! More like a wishlist…). Are they trying to talk to adults or children? For children, the message seems off, and for adults, the format seems off. And what do they want them to do? There is no strong call to action beyond remembering to visit a website, or to download an app (which I downloaded, but it just seems to want me to take a ‘360 degree’ selfie which sounds terrifying). There’s no real information provided — just the kind of nice but sort of hollow words that the UN often gets pilloried for. For a cinema ad, where you have a fairly captive/undistracted audience compared to other broadcast media, I reckon they should have just used Malala or one of the other celebrities they trotted out over the weekend. A real, unanimated person talking and explaining the goals, or why they think the goals are a good thing, might not have been ‘innovative’ but it would surely have been more convincing.

    • Yeah – I’m inclined to think a real person (at least for audiences not going to see kid’s films) would have been better.

      • Hmmm… I think it’s actually an ad for the UN more than the SDGs. Shows countries coming together for good (presented generically as global goals). It doesn’t really say much about the SDGs themselves (as others have noted) but it presents the UN in a fun, light but meaningful way. It’s not going to make anyone care more about the SDGs but might help reset the image of the UN a touch among some people.

        But how does Norway get the moose? What about Canada? I am offended.

  • Ok – so we have two votes in favour (Paul and Jo) and two against (Terence and James).

    Beyond whether you liked the ad or not: I think you both make interesting points.

    James, indeed, we don’t actually have a plan, we have a desired set of desired outcomes. Good outcomes. But we’re kidding ourselves if we know enough about how to get them (especially once we take political economy into account). We certainly don’t have enough to say we have a plan.

    Paul, I agree that it is in the ad’s favour that they manage to distil the essence of the goals into 3 key areas (more or less accurately). But as you say, I wonder how certain governments will react to the messaging. Maybe that will eventually be the power of the goals, to foster a normative vision that can be used to (partially) bind even recalcitrant governments? Or maybe the goals will just be ignored as inconvenient. I guess that all depends.

  • Hi Terence
    I thought the ad was rather fun – and comedians may have even more fun with the way the United Nations was portrayed. But it did encourage me to go through to main website (so click that up as at least one ‘success’ for the ad) and this included the interesting summary: “Global Goals for Sustainable Development. 17 goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years. End extreme poverty. Fight inequality and injustice. Fix climate change.” So is the real focus just on three things? There has been much discussion (including at yesterday’s excellent seminar on the SDG’s hosted by the Development Policy Centre) about whether there are too many goals (yet alone too many targets). If there really are only three key extraordinary outcomes being sought, then I think that is a positive. But will the government allow “Fix Climate Change” to be one of only three key logos on any updated DFAT wall? Cheers. Paul.

  • Terence – I think it’s a flop. I too saw this at the cinema and found it cringe-making. ‘We have a plan [or should that be Plan?]’ Seriously? If anything, it comes across as a spoof on well-meaning global do-gooderism.

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